Down at heel
September 4, 2011 6:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm starting to do barbell squats, but I can't keep my feet flat on the floor. Advice?

So when I crouch down during a bodyweight squat, my heels rise up when I get close to the ground -- my ankles/tendons are too tight it seems. I'm just on the balls of my feet and very wobbly.

Should I put something under my heels when I do squats? What's the protocol here?
posted by dontjumplarry to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you can't keep your feet flat on the floor in an air squat (aka bodyweight squat) then you aren't ready to put a bar on your back.

There are a few different issues that can lead to this -- tight ankles is one of them so I would recommend doing some ankle stretches. Another thing to try is holding a counterweight in front of you to allow you to sit further "back" into your squat -- a light medicine ball or dumbbell held in front of you with your arms outstretched and parallel to the ground should work.

It bears repeating: If you can't keep your feet flat on the floor in an air squat (aka bodyweight squat) then you aren't ready to put a bar on your back.
posted by telegraph at 6:49 PM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Last thing: what kind of shoes are you wearing? Regular cross trainers or running shoes have way too much padding to allow a stable base for a squat. Get a pair of Chuck Taylors or any flat soled shoe, if you aren't wearing them already.
posted by telegraph at 6:50 PM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Agreed, you aren't ready for the bar. I'd actually suggest box squats to make sure that your ass is back far enough. I'd figure your form is off before I'd figure that your flexibility is off. Sit further back, like you're sitting down in a chair.
posted by bfranklin at 7:02 PM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

It took me a while to "lock in" the form. And when I did it was an ah ha sort of moment. So, THIS is what I'm supposed to be doing! And it took a while bc the "sitting back" part is a lot farther than I thought. Try practicing over a weight bench so you're not afraid of "leaning" back.
posted by atomicstone at 7:02 PM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Try turning your feet out to about a 30 degree angle, and make sure that your knees stay out.
posted by The Lamplighter at 7:22 PM on September 4, 2011

There are three joints that affect the biomechanics and range of motion of the squat the hip, the knee, and the ankle. If one joint is at or past its limit, the other two joints will have to bend further to achieve additional depth.

Elevating the heels allows the hip angle to be more open at any given squat depth. In other words, it circumvents tight hips. It helps the lifter acheive greater depth by putting greater emphasis on knee flexion rather than hip flexion. Since most people have better knee flexion than hip flexion, they can squat deeper if they elevate the heels

Notice in this drawing that the hip and ankle angles are exactly the same in both squat examples

(aside: for some reason my URL's aren't actively linking, so you're going to have to copy and paste my URLs into your browser window. Sorry.)

The hip angle is only 90 degrees in both examples. (i.e. tight) The ankle angle is also unchanged. It is the knee angle that has changed. The second squat is deeper and the weight is still over the center of gravity (although it is shifting forward). But this is not the desired method to squat deeper. We want the lifter to sit back and suck the pelvis into the thighs. We don't want him to stick his knees further and further out over his toes. We want a more acute hip angle, not a more acute knee angle.

If the lifter on the left increases his ankle flexion (flexibility) the squat will be deeper but the knees will have go out past the toes. Is that the best way to fix this problem? I propose the best way for the lifter on the left to squat deeper is through increased hip and knee flexion, not increased ankle and knee flexion.

Who has greater ankle flexion? Guy on right. Who has greater hip flexion? Woman on left. Who is squatting deeper? The woman

Another version:

Squatting deeper by elevating the heels vs. increasing the hip flexion.

All three squats have the same center of gravity and the same ankle flexion. The squat on the far left and the squat on the far right have exactly the same back angle. The squat in the middle has the toes way past the knees, but the back angle is actually more upright. The squat on the far right has slightly increased hip flexion compared to the the other two squats; the other two squats have 90 degree hip flexion.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 7:35 PM on September 4, 2011

I don't know if you've bought Convict Conditioning, but Paul Wade says:

1) Don't put anything under your heels. If you aren't working at a place which allows for barefoot squats, I would get shoes with the flattest heels possible. I use Adidas martial arts shoes, but there are undoubtedly other ones that would work.

2) Work your way up to bodyweight squats. His progression is shoulderstand squats, squats where you rest your hands on a chair (and bend over at the top to allow yourself to rest more), squats where you rest your hands on a counter and keep your back straight, half squats where the down state is where your thighs are parallel to the ground, and then squats where the back of your thighs touch the back of your calves when you are down. If you don't have the book, there are probably youtube videos available if you search for convict conditioning squats.

If you use the progression, you'll have some stability in the down state, allowing your tendons to stretch as you build up leg strength.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 7:37 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I should note that Paul Wade's endgame isn't to build up to proper form for barbell squats, but rather to build up to proper form for one-legged bodyweight squats. So if you want to use his template, you might want to consider stopping at a half-squat (your thighs roughly parallel to the ground in the down state).
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 7:46 PM on September 4, 2011

[Parroting, with added linkage] As a general guideline, if you cannot comfortably Asian squat (either in bare feet or flat-soled, minimally-padded shoes) you have no business putting a bar on your back.

An exercise with cues for good form habituation is the goblet squat. Perform this as often as humanly possible throughout the day and you should develop all the hip mobility you need in no time.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 8:00 PM on September 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Other answers have covered the flexibility pretty thoroughly, so let me suggest something different. Have you tried lifting your toes off the ground? This won't help at all if your problem really is flexibility, but sometimes people have the necessary range of motion and still pick their heels up as a matter of habit. So I was taught to consciously lift my toes off the ground before I started each squat, in order to force my weight back onto my heels.
posted by d. z. wang at 12:45 AM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's what helped me go from an on-the-toes squatter to a normal squatter. Think of your torso as following the path of a rigid board, propped up against a wall, but sliding down. Shove your butt out to descend, don't bend your knees to start the descent. The knees will bend, but to support the body during the descent rather than to initiate it. You may need to use a wider stance to do this, which is fine.

Also, seconding the "lift your toes". If none of this works, it's probably a flexibility issue. In addition to the resources above, you might find MobilityWOD helpful.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 10:01 AM on September 5, 2011

Wide feet. Toes out.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:15 AM on September 5, 2011

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